Food and water distributions are helping communities survive despite El Niño fueled droughts but long-term needs remain, writes Plan International’s Jonathan Mitchell.

Rainfall is long overdue in Ethiopia.

Travelling to Lalibella in the Amhara Region, the land is bone dry and the region is in the midst of a drought caused by the El Niño weather phenomenon.


I’ve been to Ethiopia many times and been witness to previous drought situations. This time, though, it’s different. The land around Lalibella, located in the Lasta district, resembles a desert. There is no sign of any life apart from a few trees scattered around the arid land.

During my journey I stop at a Plan International-supported health centre which is providing help for malnourished children.

It’s clear these villagers need long term help. Rain is predicted, but funding is running out.

When I reach my final destination, a group of 500 people appear out of nowhere. They are here because they need water. 

Communities and children in the Lasta district have been grappling with water scarcity since the drought began. In many areas, this has been a problem for a while, exacerbated by the ongoing drought. Plan International has implemented a new water truck intervention in collaboration with the International Rescue Committee (IRC).

The system supplies life-saving water via trucks from Lalibela's water supply system to 6 distribution points in the Lasta and Bugna districts on a daily basis, benefiting over 7,000 people.


It is remarkable to witness the resilience of these people. They are doing everything they can to survive. Despite the landscape, this isn’t the same as some of the drought situations I have seen where people are close to starvation.

This community is surviving in the face of adversity. The rivers have dried up for the first time people’s memories.

I look around for signs of malnourishment. Yes, some are struggling but with support from Plan International and the Ethiopian Government they are surviving.

During my trip, I meet Melese Asefa, 29, a mother of 2 who suffers from a disability.

“My family and I have severely suffered from a lack of food and water over the past year,” she tells me. Her 3-year-old baby girl, Birtukan, is malnourished. I can see the pain etched across her face, but Melese is hopeful having received food, health and nutrition support.

“Thanks to the Ethiopian Government and Plan International Ethiopia my child’s health is improving,” Melese says. “I feel like she has been rescued from the verge of death.”

In some ways, this response is a success story. Over the past 10 to 15 years, the Ethiopian Government has done a lot to improve its safety net for drought-affected people in chronically vulnerable areas. 

The government is distributing food and we are providing water as well as health and nutrition training for villagers. Any help villagers receive is essential to their survival.

Children performing song at water distribution centre Ethiopia
Children perform song at water distribution in Dorolaba, Lalibela district
Woman filling water container in Ethiopia
Woman fills container from water tank in Dorolaba, Lalibela district
Plan International food distribution Ethiopia
Melese, 29, and her family at a food distribution event
Residents register to collect water in Ethiopia
Residents of Dorolaba community register to collect water from tank.


Water distributions are essential for communities in Ethiopia affected by the El Niño weather phenomenon.
Worries remain though. Villagers told me how two crops in a row have failed. They have livestock and the seed and fodder distribution is helping. However, when the distributions stop, they will then be forced to sell a cow or a goat. It’s their only survival strategy.

It’s clear these villagers need long term help. Rain is predicted, but funding is running out. Even if the rains start now and villagers plant their seeds next month, it will be another 6 months before they can harvest crops.

Further to the South of Ethiopia, rain has fallen to such an extent that flooding is presenting yet another challenge to beleaguered communities.

From my brief visit it’s clear Ethiopia is a country which has put measures in place to deal with chronic droughts. Yet while things might be better than 20 years ago, I can’t stress enough that Ethiopia is not out of the woods.

Resilience will only get these villagers so far, they need sustained support and help from the international community.

The effects of El Niño are devastating countries all over the globe. You can support children and families affected by the weather phenomenon today. Click here to find out more.
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